Cricket Galaxy S4 Review - Part 2

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is an incredible smartphone that is arguably the top available phone on the market at the time of writing this, comparible only to the HTC One.  Sorry, the iPhone 5 doesn't seem to be in the same class, even with iOS 7.  The coming of this handset on prepaid virtually at its market launch is telling as to how far prepaid has come.  No longer can people complain that no contract wireless doesn't have any top tier exciting phones!Cricket Samsung Galaxy S4 White  If you landed on this page first, you'll want to visit the first part of this review by visiting the Cricket Galaxy S4 Review Introduction.  That page also allows you to share your comments.

Samsung Keyboard

  • The Samsung keyboard has an extra dedicated numbers row above the QWERTY keyboard that makes entering numbers a breeze.  Though the extra row consumes additional screen space.
  • The Samsung keyboard provides three predictions, but also allows you to pull down a drop-down list with an additional 6 predictions to choose from; this is a nice feature compared with other keyboards.
Swype
  • Swype is a third-party technology that allows you to trace words without lifting your finger.  It fits 5-6 predictions in portrait orientation, and 7-8 predictions in landscape orientation.  Both orientations allow you to use your finger to scroll to the right to view all predictions, though you would likely never take the time to scroll.
SwiftKey Lite vs. SwiftKey Flow
  • The Samsung keyboard actually integrates pieces of another third-party keyboard called SwiftKey.  The advantage of SwiftKey is that it learns your writing style over time, which allows it to even better predict your next word.  If you allow it to, it will even learn from your Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.  Swype is said to also learn, however, supposedly not as well as SwiftKey.  
  • Upon discovering that Samsung had licensed this third-party software (what I'm calling SwiftKey Light), I decided to download the SwiftKey 30-day trial, which allows for a plethora of additional options and settings that Samsung didn't build in.  What you do lose is the standalone numbers row (which I mitigated by adjusting the SwiftKey hold settings), and you only get 3 prediction options displayed.  SwiftKey has a similar swiping technology that Swype has; they call it SwiftKey Flow.
  • In addition to a ton of additional personalized settings, what you do gain with the full version is the ability to swipe (one finger tracing) through the space key.  This allows you to enter multiple words without having to lift your finger between words.  I find this to add a significant amount of speed to typing.  In fact, my brain can't usually keep up with my finger, so I need to lift it up to process what I want to enter next!  The Samsung version of SwiftKey, nor Swype have this feature.
  • Ultimately, my decision regarding which keyboard to commit to using was between the Samsung keyboard (with SwiftKey light integrated) vs. SwiftKey (which is $3.99 after the trial).  I decided to use SwiftKey, which provides for an overall better experience, and allows me to get upgrades without having to wait for Samsung to provide an updated OS.  It also means that if I don't use a Samsung smartphone in the future, I'll be able to keep a consistent keyboard across device types by using SwiftKey.
  • Both the typing and swiping experiences on SwiftKey are so good, I'm still trying to figure out which method I prefer to use.  I tend to find myself swiping more (i.e. using SwiftKey Flow) because it feels faster, however, prediction is so good that actual typing rarely requires that you have to type a complete word before you see the correct predicted text displayed.  Swiping requires more brain power to see where to move your finger next, that you are rarely able to tap a prediction before completing the swype of a given word.  Note, however, that even swiping in the general direction of the letter usually yields the correct predicted word!

Cricket Samsung Galaxy S4 Built-In Keyboard Cricket Samsung Galaxy S4 With SwiftKey Keyboard Add-On Cricket Samsung Galaxy S4 With Built-In Swype Keyboard
Samsung Keyboard With SwiftKey Light SwiftKey Keyboard Full Version Swype Keyboard

Notice in the screen shots of the three keyboard above that both the Samsung and SwiftKey keyboards start predicting before you even enter any letters.  The prediction is not at all gimmicky; it's actually scary accurate.  It learned that I often say "Hi" or "Thank you" as my first response word, and displays those options!  To the contrary Swype starts predicting only after beginning text entry.  

I know I spent a LOT of time describing the keyboard options.  I did so because I believe that this can completely change one's experience with any smartphone.  Rather than being a completely painful experience (as I've had with other virtual keyboards), typing is actually fun.  Perhaps I should actually say "text entry" as swiping isn't really typing!  There has been such a paradigm shift in the quality of screens, as well as typing technology (like SwiftKey and Swype), that it can have a radical impact on the type of device you're willing to use.

As for the Galaxy S4, I find the 5" screen a great size for portrait text input.  Landscape slows down the process as you have to move your fingers too far to get to each key.  If the phone were any wider, I think it would become much more difficult to do one-handed navigation and text entry, which is why I'm hesitant to consider devices like the Note 2 or upcoming Note 3.


Camera
This is the area where the phone really excels beyond anything I've experienced.  I know there are a number of other current smartphones that have great cameras, so I'm not saying that the Galaxy S4 is the best, as I haven't compared it to the other competitors.  Here are some key features that I'm enjoying:
  • It takes great pictures is most lighting conditions.  I find that even in poor lighting conditions, the night setting (no flash) does a better job than actually using the flash.
  • Cricket Samsung Galaxy S4 Camera ModesShutter speed is quite good so I capture fast moving children in action without blurring!
  • I love the animated photo setting that takes a 10 second shot and converts it into an animated GIFT.  The GIF will loop continuously forward or backwards depending on the setting you select.  You can also choose to freeze portions of a photo that you want to remain stationary.  So you can have flags waving in the background, while freezing the rest of the scenery in the shot (ex. people, cars, etc.).
  • The Drama mode allows you to capture a moving object through the frame of the photo and select which shots you want to appear in the photo.  This is great for action shots like soccer or karate kicks.
  • The panorama setting works quite well, though if you get overly excited and try to take in touch much, the photo becomes way too small.  This seems like an iOS ripoff, but works well nonetheless.
  • The Best Face setting comes in handy as it captures 5 burst shots, and allows you to select the best face from each person.  So if one person has their eyes closed in one pic, and another is frowning, etc., you can combine the best faces into one photo and save that.  I have encountered an issue where sometimes it doesn't recognize all of the faces thus only provides alternate face options for some of the faces in the photo.
  • The eraser mode will automatically delete background moving objects (like people running through your picture!).  I haven't had a lot of opportunities yet to test this is the real world.  I figure the next theme park visit will provide a lot of opportunities!
  • The 20 pic burst shot allows you to simply hold down the shutter to capture continuous photos for the times when a photo is more appropriate or desired than a video.  Note that all modes that use burst shots save the photos to the phone's memory and NOT to the SD card due to the required write speed.
  • You can take a photo using both the front and rear cameras.  It's kind of gimmicky, but I've taken some fun photos with this feature, which also includes various framing options.  It's a fun feature.
  • I've received great feedback that during Skype video calls the sound and picture quality is great.  Unfortunately, the ability to use both cameras simultaneously isn't available for some reason, even though Android Jelly Bean is supposed to support it.
Overall, I love the camera to the point where we leave our DSLR at home sometimes knowing that we have a decent camera easily on hand.  I wouldn't even consider buying another phone that doesn't have these camera features as I enjoy using them that much.  I also enjoy using it with Dropbox, which automagically uploads camera photos and videos to your Dropbox account (I use the WiFi only mode to avoid going over my data allowance).


Reception/Service

Yes, it's still a phone that can make phone calls!  I haven't had any reception issues.  Coverage seems very much the same as Sprint.  Though keep in mind that 4G LTE coverage is extremely limited where I live, with no ability to roam on Sprint's 4G, so for all intents and purposes, it's a 3G phone until Cricket can strike an LTE roaming agreement with Sprint.
Blue Cricket Samsung Galaxy S4 Back Cover
 
Performance
As inferred in the above sections, the overall phone is speedy with very little lag.  Sometimes loading the photo gallery from the camera app can take a little too long, but otherwise, I'm very happy with the device's performance.  I find Jelly Bean to be zippy, and I don't find that Samsung's TouchWiz adds any noticeable delays.  Note that Jelly Bean doesn't allow you to install apps on the SD card, so don't be surprised, and plan in advance when you consider how you want to use your internal 16GB of  internal memory.  Cricket currently doesn't offer the 32GB model.

 
Battery Life
Here's where I have pain!  I can start by stating that the battery life is no worse than any other smartphone.  The problem is that due to all of the phone's capabilities, I find myself wanting to use it more than any smartphone I've had in the past.  Unfortunately, that means more strain on the battery.  It won't get through the day without charging it.  With moderate use it could make it through a day, however, making calls, playing music, writing emails and text messages, using the camera, navigation, etc., result in high battery usage.  I even disabled all real time data syncing, and have email check only every hour.

Personally, I don't feel that there's any value in making phones even more thin.  I'd rather see an extra millimeter or two if that could result in an extra 10-20% of battery life.  I feel that the next breakthrough in mobile technology isn't going to be any sexy features, but rather a massive increase in battery life.   Lastly, note that you'll need a 2A car charger to actually be able to charge your phone while using it in a car.  Anything less than that, and the phone will drain faster than it can charge.

 
Overall Conclusion
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is a tremendous smartphone that not only allows for high productivity, but is also fun to use.  The fact that this smartphone is available on prepaid at nearly the same time as it launched on the big carriers really denotes the coming of prepaid wireless.  The price is a little steep at $430, however, so unless you have the cash, you'll either want to go for the Galaxy SIII, or wait six months for the Galaxy S4 to drop a $100.  Note, however, that I feel that the Galaxy S4 is so much better than the Galaxy SIII in terms of features and overall performance, that I'd recommend waiting for the price to come down before opting for the Galaxy SIII.  I highly recommend this phone, on any carrier for that matter; I can't imagine anyone that would be disappointed.  I caution iPhone users not to use this phone, as you'll immediately understand how far behind the iPhone is in terms of features and personalization capabilities that you'll immediately become depressed ;-).


To comment on this review or your own personal experience with the Samsung Galaxy S4, head over to Cricket Samsung GS4 Review Comments.

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Galaxy S4 Review - Part 2

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